For 20 years Simi Valley's Strung Out have been creating their unique brand of fast, technical, and rebellious punk rock. Their most recent release, Agents of the Underground, which came out September 29th on Fat Wreck Chords, serves as a testament to Strung Out's staying power. Sean Jain sat down with singer Jason Cruz after their show in Dallas, Texas to talk about their new album, their relationship with Fat Wreck Chords, one country they'd love to play most, and the meaning behind the title, Agents of the Underground.
Howâs the tour going so far?
Itâs the third showâ¦itâs awesome, itâs fucking rad. We broke down, our transmission fucking dropped all its fluid last night so today was a rough day trying to figure out how to get here.
Every fucking time we come to Texas, I swear to fucking god dudeâ¦itâs fucking cursed.
I thought it was the cops.
Either the cops, or the fucking van breaking downâ¦every fucking timeâ¦it never fails dude. My whole career, twenty fucking years, every time we roll through Texas, itâs something.
This state is cursed.
Yeah itâs the oil in the water in the ground. I swear to god itâs something. I swear, itâs kind of cursed. I dig Texasâ¦I love the vibe hereâAustinâs my favorite, I love the vibe, I love the people, but something about this fucking placeâ¦I swear to god the oil in the earth makes shit kind of cursed. The Indians put a curse on this place a long time ago.
Well Iâm sure the fans are glad that you keep coming back.
Dude, the people here are greatâ¦I love Texas. Itâs just cursed (laughs).
I was going to ask if you got accosted by the policeâ¦
No, not yet. Maybe tomorrow.
So Agents of the Underground came out on Tuesdayâ¦tell us about it.
Uhâ¦what do you want me to sayâ¦have you heard it?
Yeah, Iâve probably listened to it around thirteen or fourteen times now.
Whyâd you guys make the switch from Matt Hyde to Cameron Webb this time?
You know, I think after two times working with the same person you have to switch it up a little bit. Cameron was a fan of the band and we loved that Ignite record that he did, and we love everything that heâs done, but mostly that Ignite record was the one that caught my ear.
Cameron practically saved my lifeâ¦heâs good people, heâs a good guy, heâs a good person. Heâs a family guy, heâs got a good soul. He saved this band basicallyâhe saved meâ¦I was going to quit.
I was tired. Like after we got home from England, I was tired of everythingâ¦I didnât know what the fuckâ¦I didnât believe it anymore. Cameron did.
Well, you guys came back with a really strong, focused release it seems.
I think so too. I can say thatâ¦I believe it.
Coming up with the title of Agents of the Underground, was that something you thought of before you recorded it, or was that something that evolved throughout the recording process?
It evolved throughout the recordingâ¦definitely. A band like usâ¦like everybody that was along in the glory days of the early 90âs are gone, or theyâre pathetic now. Here we are, weâre just the same band that we wereâ¦still fucking trudging it out manâ¦I donât knowâ¦I feel like weâre one of the last punk rock bands out there. Honestly! Weâre still fucking in the trenches, fighting the good fight…this is it, this is who we are, this is what we doâ¦like fuck it, deal with it.
Well, for example, Pennywiseâ¦ I donât think anyone saw that coming, I saw them in April on the Jagermeister tour and then next thing you know Iâm reading about Jim leaving the bandâ¦
Yeah, itâs hardâ¦especially when you get older and you get a family.
You know, making music is the most precious thing in the fucking world because you have to sacrifice so much shit to do it. Thereâs so much bullshit that you have to deal with that nobody knows aboutâ¦so much shit that you have to give up and do. For a person to hear a recordâ¦people donât even fucking realize; when a band makes a recordâpeople donât even think for a second, everything that band had to do to get that shit done. Youâre not making money, youâre leaving your family behindâ¦youâve got to give up everything to make that music.
What do you look to for inspiration for your lyrics?
I donât know man, moviesâ¦I like movies a lot. I donât know what it is, maybe itâs the music that we writeâ¦.whatever it is, I just do it. Itâs what I do and I have to do it (laughs).
How many songs did you guys write for Agents?
It was probably fourteen, and then it just got to a point where we were running out of time and I picked the best eleven out of the group and we focused on those and then the rest sounded too much like the other ones.
So you guys only record those eleven?
We recorded fourteen, but I only did vocals for eleven. There are three others out there that have no vocals.
You think youâll revisit them?
Maybe, yeah, after some timeâ¦they sound really goodâ¦a couple just sounded too similar to some other things that were on the record.
How do you guys go about writing a Strung Out record, has the process changed over the years?
Noâ¦we show up, we figure "Okay weâve got to write a record" and then we drop everything and then the other guys go and practice every day, write and arrange, write and arrange, the music all day long. They donât hear a single vocal melody or a single word until I get into the studio and then I sing and write everything.
This time I was staying up all night writing while they were recording and then Iâd come in the next morning and sing whatever I came up with.
Do you have any personal favorites, song-wise, on this record?
I love every song on this record. Every song on this record is so personalâ¦thereâs not a filler song on this record, thatâs why we stuck to eleven because anything else would have been filler. Every song has a place, a meaning and a purpose. There was some gnarly shit that was going on in my life during this recording.
All these kids on Punknews and whatever that write their little opinions…you know, (laughing)â¦this is our fucking life. We live this fucking life and then we record it.
Over the last fifteen years, has your relationship with Fat changed, or has it stayed the same?
I think theyâre relationship with us has changed. Theyâve changed a lot. Thatâs all I can sayâ¦weâve still been trudging it out, doing our thing and theyâve changed. For better or worse, thatâs a matter of opinionâ¦Iâm not going to sayâ¦but weâre still doing what we do bestâ¦weâre still family you knowâ¦
Jake Kiley: But weâre still the black sheep.
Have you guys ever thought of making the switch to a major?
Whatâs that going to do for us? Weâve seen bands come and goâ¦and nobodyâs come and swept us of our feet yet. It just hasnât happened and it probably never will happenâ¦I donât believe itâs in the books.
You know, we make a living off thisâ¦weâve made a living off this for twenty years. Iâve been able to pay my rent doing this.
Kiley: We have control of our music.
Cruz: How many bands can say that?
Kiley: Majors donât like you to have controlâ¦they want the control.
Well thatâs true, I think thatâs why fans keep coming back to Strung Out, you seem to evolveâ¦but not to something thatâs foreign and alien.
Yeahâ¦and you know, weâve kept the same members this whole time except for Jim.
I think people can identify with thatâ¦itâs like they know what theyâre getting. And itâs like I always say, when you look at a painting, you look at more than the technique of the painting, you look at the artistâs personality and his life behind thatâ¦and itâs the same with a band. You look at the personalities behind the band, and the people that youâve grown to know and like, and thatâs what adds to the musicâ¦not just, "what if I wrote all the songs and got a different band member every record"â¦ people wouldnât connect with that.
Thereâs something to that longevity.
Yeah, itâs the same with Fat Wreck Chords,â¦dudeâ¦If you can make five dudes that have nothing in common last twenty years and stick it out and do beautiful things, you can make anything work. You can make any marriage work, any friendship, any job, anything…and thatâs the key to life, making relationships work.
Thatâs inspirational man.
Thatâs all it isâ¦thatâs what weâre here for. Iâm not here to make a million dollars, Iâm here to inspire, because Iâm inspired.
So this might be a loaded question, but after twenty years of being a band in the underground, in your opinionâ¦how has the underground changed?
I donât think anybody embraces the fact that theyâre just making music for making music. I could be wrong, Iâm not going to speak for anybody, but I think thatâ¦what else is there in life you know? They say that when you make $50,000 and then all of a sudden you make $100,000 your lifestyle changes tremendously, but after $100,000, thereâs no change, thereâs just more stress.
What else is there in lifeâ¦you find love, you find family, and you find something that youâre good at and you just do it. Thatâs all there is, then youâre gonna fucking die.
So in that respect, for the people that are genuinely underground, there is no change.
Thereâs nothing, people donât want to get big. I want to make a million dollars, Iâm not going to fucking lieâ¦I have bills, I have debt, I have troubles, but I love this right now, and I do this, and this is all there isâ¦making music.
Can you point to one moment over the last twenty years when you realized that you could do Strung Out full-time and you wouldnât have to go back to your day job? Is there one moment in particular?
Noâ¦I still worry. Everydayâs a struggle, everydayâs scary. I say all the time that doing what you want in life and not working for anybody is ten times harder then working some shitty job because thereâs no security in it. People say "oh youâre in a bandâ¦you donât have to wake up early every day" and I say "fuck you," Iâve got to figure out how to make rent every month, Iâve got to make this record, put on this tourâ¦all while trying to keep my integrity at the same time. Youâve got to make a business out of it, but at the same time, keep the sincerity and the meaning in it. Itâs hard manâ¦
I hear ya, thereâs a lot of insecurity in music these days.
Thereâs a lot of insecurity period. Youâve just got to make do and make peace with the insecurityâ¦the fact that there is no security.
Last question, you guys have been all over the world throughout your career, but is there one country that you guys havenât been to yet, that youâd love to take your music to?
Yup. Iâd love to go to Palestine and rock people that have actual, real problemsâ¦like people that actually have to fucking fight for something. Like, I sing about things and we all bitch about thingsâ¦but thereâs people in the world that have real fucking things to sing about and I want to be a part of that.